Daniel Andrews does not expect a fresh outbreak from hotel quarantine to affect the Australian Open as authorities investigate how a worker employed at a site designated for tennis players and staff contracted Covid-19.
Victoria’s premier announced a slight tightening of restrictions at a snap press conference late on Wednesday night after revealing that the man had tested positive.
The positive case, in a 26-year-old from Noble Park in Melbourne’s south-east, means 600 Grand Hyatt hotel workers have been directed to isolate and get tested, as have 520 Australian Open players and staff who completed quarantine at the facility and are considered casual contacts.
Tennis Australia cancelled warm-up games at Melbourne Park on Thursday but the tennis tournament is still scheduled to begin on 8 February, with up to 30,000 fans allowed into the precinct each day.
Asked on Thursday morning if the event might be cancelled, the deputy chief health officer, Prof Allen Cheng, said it was “unlikely”.
“We have asked for testing of all the tennis players and other people that have been in the hotel,” Cheng said. “I think we need to wait for those results to come back.”
Andrews said: “We all understand that there’s no guarantees in any of this. But at this stage the tournament shouldn’t be impacted.”
Asked to respond to Victorians who have raised concerns about the tournament going ahead, the premier said: “Any one person who comes here from any part of the world presents a risk.”
“You have to manage that risk, that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said. “The strategy is not zero cases for ever. The strategy is to try and find that Covid normal, to try and have economic activity, to try and begin rebuilding and recovery, and to manage this risk.”
Andrews also insisted that the tennis players were not getting “special treatment”, noting he had rejected a so-called “list of demands” for relaxed conditions for the Open contingent.
More than 1,000 players and staff have been flown into Melbourne for the Open, where they are being held in a hotel quarantine bubble.
The premier said the hotel quarantine worker was a “model employee” who had followed all protocols, yet officials believed he had still contracted the virus at Grand Hyatt.
He said authorities could not rule out “airborne transmission of the virus”.
“But the working theory and the assumption – I think it’s well-founded one – is that he’s got it in hotel quarantine, despite not having done anything to breach infection control protocols,” he said. “[This speaks] to the high infectivity of this UK strain.”
Cheng confirmed that the man, who is a resident support worker in the hotel quarantine program, was employed on a floor of the venue where there were positive cases.
The man’s two household contacts have tested negative and authorities have spoken to 19 of his 20 close contacts.
Cheng said those close contacts – considered the man’s “social contacts” were at highest risk but authorities had taken a cautious approach by also including all work contacts and the tennis contingent.
“We just want to make sure there aren’t any other hotel workers at risk,” he said. “It’s mostly his social contacts we’re worried about.”
In response to the positive case, Victoria’s health department has extended opening hours at existing testing sites and will establish a new facility at Noble Park, near most of the identified exposure sites.
Jeroen Weimar, the Covid response commander, acknowledged there were already delays of about 90 minutes at some sites on Thursday and up to four hours at the busiest facility.
Andrews was asked if he would support calls to move hotel quarantine sites away from metropolitan areas. He said he would “keep an open mind” if a proposal came to national cabinet.
“That might give you some greater capacity and might be useful, not just for this pandemic but events that could occur in the future,” he said.
“On the issue of risk, though, any facility will have to be staffed. Staff have lives. They have a family. You can put it 50km from where we are standing now or 500km, but there will be people there, too, and the virus spreads.”